Selecting a Sweater Size

One of the best parts about hand making garments is that they may be customized to your individual body shape and your personal style. Before selecting a pattern, we suggest spending some time discovering your preferred ease in a garment and recording your key measurements for quick reference. To aid in this process we’ve created an ease worksheet that can be used to record your key body measurements, alongside those of your favorite sweaters (store bought or handknit) to use as a reference guide in determining which sizes and styles you like to knit. Download your copy at the bottom of this page.

Choosing the correct size to knit

Start by gathering sweaters that you find particularly becoming and comfortable to wear, noting what appeals to you about the garment:

  • Are raglan sleeves flattering to your shoulder shape?
  • Do you gravitate toward set-in sleeves?
  • Most importantly, which items do you feel your best in?

Once you have identified types of garments you like, measure and jot down the key dimensions of bust/chest, waist, and hips as outlined on our ease worksheet.  It can be informative to note where the waist falls in case you are short- or long-waisted.

Then, ask a friend to measure and record these same points on your person. Be sure to take your measurements while wearing a garment of similar weight to that which you’ll wear under your knits.

Easing into your project

Ease is simply the difference between your body measurements and those of the finished garment.

Positive ease allows extra room inside the garment for your body to move around — or, more plainly, the sweater circumference is larger than your body circumference. Negative ease results in a garment dimension smaller than that of the wearer, forcing the stretchy knitted fabric to expand slightly when worn. Curve-hugging sweaters and warm knit caps illustrate negative ease. When the measurements of the garment and your body are exactly the same, you have no ease in the garment.

Pattern designers provide recommendations for ease, but they are just that. Ease is as much about comfort as it is about styling, and everyone has slightly different preferences for how much or how little they like. Don’t be afraid to choose a different size than a pattern suggests, if the resulting garment will be more in line with the style and ease amount that you prefer in your favorite sweaters.

An important note about fabric/yarn weight: Standard ease “rules” apply to garments knit with a chunky or bulky weight yarn, but require some extra considerations that can seem non-intuitive at first read. The bulkier the yarn you are using, the bigger the difference between the garments circumference on the outside (public-facing side) of and the circumference of the inside (where your body is). Because bulky yarns create very thick fabrics, the inside measurement of a bulky sweater is tighter than the outside, much like the lanes on the inside of a race-track are a shorter distance than the lanes on the outside.

Remember to take the thickness of your yarn/knitted fabric into account when choosing ease for sweaters that require heavier yarns.

Schematics

A schematic is the Rosetta Stone of a knitting pattern, the decoder ring that visually informs you of how the garment is constructed. From it, you can quickly glean the direction of knitting, whether the item is knit flat or in the round, the shape of the sleeves, and key dimensions for all sizes covered by the pattern. Schematics generally include both Metric and Imperial equivalents.

Compare your personal measurements against those provided in the schematic when choosing a size. If you are in-between sizes in a pattern, you’ll need to rely on the amount of ease you’d prefer in the finished garment. The bust/chest measurement is key, used to calculate the suggested ease in almost all hand knitting patterns. Referring back to the bust/chest measurement of a sweater you gathered in step one, subtract your own bust/chest measurement to yield the ease of that item.

It may be useful to circle or highlight the numbers corresponding to the size you choose to knit on the schematic before beginning your project for easy reference later.

Some thoughts on gauge

After you have selected which size to knit, ensuring you are knitting the correct gauge is the most important thing you can do to create a garment that meets your expectations.

Gauge is a measurement of the number of stitches created by your particular yarn, needles, and individual tension over a specific area. In knitting patterns, gauge is most commonly referred to as X number of stitches over four inches. The number of horizontal stitches over this specified measurement comprises the stitch gauge, while row gauge refers to the number of stitches within a vertical measurement.

What may seem to be insignificant variations in gauge will add up quickly over the circumference of a garment. In particular, row (or vertical) gauge is often overlooked. Problems with row gauge will affect the length of your finished garment as well as contribute to waist or armhole shaping that is too high or too low. Row gauge is especially critical for accurate sleeve length and yoked sweaters, in which the shaping or colorwork section is designed for a set number of rows.

The takeaway

Taking the time to calculate and account for ease when making a handknit garment can be time well spent, with your efforts resulting in a garment that fits the way you intend it to. We invite you to check out our ease worksheet, provided below, and hope you’ll find it useful in learning more about your personal ease and style preferences.